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Making a Difference
Welcoming our ‘dear neighbor’
Casa Sans Jose to respond to growing needs of immigrants
In 1981, our Sisters opened their convent doors in Baden and welcomed 32 Cambodian refugees. They were to stay temporarily – for 10 days. As the short visit grew to four months, the Sisters mustered their skills and, undaunted, met the unexpected challenge. They housed, clothed, educated and fed the refugees, helping them to feel safe and comfortable in a new “home” and a strange country.
This spirit of hospitality is characteristic of the Sisters who have reached out over the decades to respond to the needs of immigrant families and migrant farm workers here in Baden and in ministries across the United States.
In a new initiative, the Sisters are addressing the significant needs of the growing Latino immigrant population, particularly the youth, in the Pittsburgh area. These families have expressed a critical need for services in their first language to assist them in adapting to life in this region.
This new emerging outreach, called Casa San Jose (House of St. Joseph), is designed to provide a resource center for Latino school-aged children, youth, and families. Sister Janice Vanderneck, former director of the Latino Catholic Community Office for Social Services in the Pittsburgh diocese, will coordinate Casa San Jose.
As she develops the blueprint for the project, Sister Janice taps into a deep spirituality to “. . . bring the good news to the poor and proclaim justice to the downtrodden.” She also turns to a breadth of experiences with Latino immigrants and what she calls a “natural inclination” to their culture and faith.
“I find within the Latino immigrant people a strength wrought of faith and suffering and a love of family that is richly powerful, and I am committed to be a part of their welcome in our midst,” Sister Janice says.
“My passion is to teach others the importance of the ‘dear neighbor,’ the immigrant, in our midst and the richness that enters our lives when we welcome the other.”
This passion was nurtured in Sister Janice as a postulant, or novice. Because she had studied advanced Spanish, Sister Janice was asked by Sister Francis de Sales Hock to help a Columbian student at Mount Gallitzin Academy who was struggling with English. That was the beginning of her lifelong love for the Spanish language and culture.
Over the years, Sister Janice has collaborated with several organizations in their outreach efforts to address the needs of the increasing immigrant population in Allegheny County and western Pennsylvania. Additionally, she has helped establish programs assisting immigrant families through acculturation and understanding life in the United States.
Sister Janice has advocated for Latino immigrants in areas such as civil rights, health care access, education, public assistance and immigration reform. In efforts to establish a more immigrant friendly environment in the Pittsburgh area, she also has worked with law enforcement officers and politicians.
This valuable groundwork has helped Sister Janice shape the framework for Casa San Jose. First steps include the establishment of a site for the resource center, recruitment of volunteers and further development of partnerships.
Through Casa San Jose, Sister Janice hopes to help Latino immigrants become more self-reliant and assist them in accessing educational and health care services. She is particularly interested in helping Latino immigrant youths to reach concrete goals, such as obtaining a GED or high school diploma, opening and using a bank account, mastering basic computer skills, and obtaining a driver’s license.
While sometimes discouraged by the inability of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, Sister Janice says: “I do not get immobilized because I see the history of the civil rights movement in our country. I see how long those journeys take.”
Along this journey, Sister Janice turns to the words of Our Lady of Guadalupe: Listen, put it in your heart, my dearest child, let nothing afflict your heart, am I not your mother, here to protect you.
For more information on how you can support Casa Sans Jose, contact Sister Janice at (412) 760-5236 or firstname.lastname@example.org.